In 1994, two sites were discovered within the limits of Lincoln’s New Salem Site Historic Site that had not been examined during the 1930s archaeology and replica construction at the park. In 1995, our crews began to test excavations at these sites (Area CC and Area AA), which were the first archeological investigations at the historic park in nearly 50 years.

Only a single known paper document places buildings in this portion of the village. On a birds-eye view drawing of New Salem made by Reverdy J. Onstot, two structures are depicted in roughly the same location as the artifact scatters found in 1994. Onstot had lived at New Salem as a small boy and probably created this map during the late 19th century with the help of other surviving former residents. Both sites are now believed to predate the 1829 founding of the town of New Salem

The work at Area CC encountered a series of pit features used to store vegetables and to butcher hogs, in the corner of what was a fenced yard. That yard was affiliated with a small dwelling thought to have been built by storekeepers Samuel Hill and John McNamar in the summer of 1829, or just before town was platted. When the pits were no longer needed, they were filled with topsoil and debris from the storekeepers’ home and their nearby store. 

Area AA was found to date even earlier – perhaps around 1825 – and included several large pit features and the well-preserved remains of an earthen-floored outbuilding. That building probably served as a still house, where grain alcohol was made. On floor of the building could be seen the long, linear impressions left behind by puncheon logs that had been laid across the dirt surface.

In addition to a large sample of English pearlware from a nearby dwelling, the excavations at Area AA also produced a number of glass trade beads, wampum, and a rolled brass hair ornament. Probably lost by visiting members of the Potawatomi tribe (who still visited the Sangamon Valley during the mid-1820s), these items represent some of the latest Native American artifacts found in the region, and mark the end of a 12,000 year occupation of the Sangamon Valley by Native Americans.

The following seasons saw excavations at several other sites across the reconstructed village, including Joshua Miller’s blacksmith shop and the actual site of the Rutledge Tavern. The replica tavern (first constructed in 1918) was actually placed on the archaeological site affiliated with the home of the town’s founder Reverend John Camron. The actual tavern site had been briefly investigated by archaeologists in the 1930s, but due to a controversial local tradition involving the nearby replica tavern, it had been decided to ignore the archeological evidence found there. The 1997 field season recorded the base of the large subfloor tavern cellar that had, unfortunately, been largely emptied of most of its artifacts decades earlier. These have never been relocated.

A detailed overview of the discovery and excavation of these sites is include in Mazrim’s 2007 book, The Sangamo Frontier, published by the University of Chicago Press. See also the Abraham Lincoln section of this site for other research at New Salem.FrontierBooks.htmlLincolnArchaeology.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1
Detail of the Onstot Map, showing houses at the sites investigated in 1995. Pit used to for hog scalding, as part of the butchering process. Circa 1830. Plan drawing of floor of still house, showing log impressions and “groundhog” still pit. Artifacts related to Native Americans, found at Area AA. Interpretive on-site signage at New Salem, designed by the Center in 1997. RESEARCH AT NEW SALEM, 1995-1997
Pearlware teacup, Area CC.
Circa 1825.